Folk Craft with Madame Ceski. Podcast Episode

With guest speakers Rhia Davenport, Hannah Parry, and Anne Rotzek.

Co-produced by Rowan Bishop

Podcast release: 22 November

Francesca Simmons, in St Anne’s House working on Sound Henge

Exploring Folks/Craft

Madame Ceski (Francesca Simmons) is an artist with a special interest in folk and craft traditions, and in this podcast she explores these questions through the lens of how we busied ourselves during lockdown. Through interviews with those who discovered a new found hobby or passion during the pandemic, and with a focus on Francesca’s current work exploring using touch to create sound within craft mediums, we look at the surprising things that happen when people ‘have a go’, & how taking part allows us to reconnect with ourselves & immediate environment.

Commissioned by Bricks, the episode is co-produced by Rowan Bishop in collaboration with the artist and Bricks producers.


Francesca 00:01
Hello, I’m Francesca. I’m a musical artist working with an experimental and folk meme currently exploring using touch to trigger sound through the medium of craft. Recently, I’ve been hand tufting using wool and attaching musical hardware to make something similar to a soft woollen keyboard. During lockdown, I started sewing my own costumes with very little experience and just having a go. It got me thinking about what are the crafts and hobbies people adopted since the pandemic began, and the impact it can have on our lives.

Francesca 00:36
In this podcast, I chat to Rhia Davenport, Hannah Parry, and Anne Rotzek about where their creative urges took them during lockdown, and how making for making sake is a really important part of inspiration, feeding into our sense of well being and confidence, not just for ourselves, but our wider community. We also chat about how folk crafts in particular relate directly to our environment and how we think about our immediate surroundings. First, we will hear from Rhia, founder of weven, Stroud based not for profit, folk craft shop and workshop space. Ria is a crafts person, and also dances with the female Morris troupe, Boss Morris. I live in Stroud in Gloucestershire. I’m a mum, I’m 38 years old, I’ve got two little children who are eight and six. I’m an extremely overstretched maker, always trying to do something new and start a new project and never too worried about finishing the last thing.

Francesca 01:43
During lockdown, I also use the time to polish my music, recording and editing skills. There’s still lots of discover. But it made me think about the way we learn and how traditional routes of learning such as over learning or copying how someone masters a technique can be applied to modern skills. So I spoke to Hannah. Hannah is a musician that started getting into music production doing lockdown teaching herself

Unknown Speaker 02:11
Where I live in North Devon,

Unknown Speaker 02:13
I am a mom of two boys. We have a family business, doing recycling at events. So we do Glastonbury. We’ve just done Glastonbury we’re just back from Glastonbury. But I don’t have so much to do with that business because I have a couple of chronic illnesses which sort of led me to having time over lockdown to explore these new creative pathways. So silver lining, I guess of being poorly and spending a bit of time in bed

Unknown Speaker 02:44
During lockdown, Ann started crocheting octopi. That’s right, soft, woolly versions of an octopus, some hand sized and some two metres long.

Unknown Speaker 02:54
Hello, my artist name is Anne Rotzek, which is my maiden name and I live in Margate, UK by the seaside. I moved here just in the year before lockdown. So I’m quite new to the UK even though I’ve spent a bit of time at home.

Unknown Speaker 03:12
Before lockdown, I worked in opera and music theatre for 18 years. So basically when lockdown hit, my entire atmosphere, and background just suddenly was gone. And yeah, that is when I basically started my new hobby, or my new addiction, which is crocheting and knitting and any yarn work, any thread I can get through my fingers will be used for something.

Unknown Speaker 03:42
Obviously, the pandemic has had a huge and lasting impact upon all of our lives. And many sad and monumental life changes have interrupted our usual pace normal ways of being.

Unknown Speaker 03:54
I had the most wonderful job, I was working for Pangolin Editions, which is a huge sculpture foundry and I was working with the collections archivist and it was such a lovely position, I adored it there. And unfortunately, when the pandemic hit, I had a really tough time I took voluntary redundancy.

Unknown Speaker 04:12
So I started sort of having a lot of time on my hands being sort of bed bound and a bit housebound, but not all the time, but some of the time. So I started YouTubing and sort of picking up on YouTube instructional videos on music production and, just my interest sort of grew really, especially following a few sort of women who were doing interesting things in music production and with sound and sound art and stuff.

Unknown Speaker 04:43
I just thought I really want to turn this negative experience into a real kind of life changing, that’s a bit too OTT but like, I just wants to spin it on its head and instead of kind of dwelling on this, what was a very, very sad event for me, turning it into something that was a total change of my whole way of life. And I’d had this idea for a long time. Initially, it was a kind of family orientated workshop where traditional craft activities were introduced to young people and children at an age where they will grow up seeing them with totally different eyes, fresh eyes, and not kind of have lots of the connotations, and in some cases, negativity that we have grown up to associate within some areas of the crafts.

Unknown Speaker 05:34
I thought, well, maybe I can. I was, I am a musician. And I have composed music previous to this. But I was held back I guess, by technical skills. Yeah, seeing others doing it. And just, I think the clarity of some of the instructional videos making it more accessible to me.

Unknown Speaker 05:58
Crocheting is something I had learned at primary school in Germany, and completely forgotten about. My son saw a little shock crochet kit at Aldi, and was like, oh, I want that, and he thought he could do it himself. I was like, oh well it said beginner’s on it and, we just got it because it was quite cheap. So we made that little shark, it came out really wonky, but in a funny way, and I just got obsessed with these Japanese technique of amigurumi crochet, where you knit or crochet in rounds and rounds and sculpture, little objects. And um, so we had our wonky shark to start off with, which took ages and wasn’t very satisfying. But like I say, I got obsessed with this shape and started researching it.

Unknown Speaker 06:49
I started doing a bit of research, and I just found so many incredible, particularly young makers, crafts people who are doing these incredible folk and country crafts, in some cases, not even realising that they’re doing them. And then other cases doing them totally unknown, and nobody’s buying their work, nobody’s celebrating it. And so really wanting to kind of gather all of these things together and turn them into an amalgamation of which, not trying to kind of brand it because I don’t see whether there’s a brand at all in any way. But just trying to bring them all together where as a combination, they can become more powerful.

Unknown Speaker 07:30
I wanted to make something with a structure basically. And that is how I thought of octopus and octopi because I was reading a book about the ocean and the ocean network and how everything is connected and memory in the ocean. And I haven’t stopped ever since.

Unknown Speaker 07:49
So I make like a round body in circles. And then I do the legs into bits basically so so I have to do a bit of sewing there. So I do the bubbly bits have to be crocheted back and forth to get the bubbles right and found a technique at how you can do bubbles and rounds. Well, they are massive and I’m working on a really big one, which I’m crocheting from all the plastic bags I caught up that came over the lockdown deliveries. Because I never we never use any plastic bags normally. And I found it so disturbing that all these little bags that they wrap all the like replacement stuff in and I always try to hit don’t replace my food. Yes, still you keep getting one of these little plastic bags. So loads of these plastic bags which I not spun into yarn, but cut into yarn now and so I’m working on a very big one. Like a very big one.

Unknown Speaker 08:49
It seems that the internet has liberated so many of us in terms of accessing knowledge and widening our horizons. Just using Wi Fi, we can enter a whole new world.

Unknown Speaker 09:00
YouTube is democratising. You know, because we’re all sort of publishers and anyone can be a content creator. I don’t really like that expression, but any of us can, can do it. And you see that on YouTube all the time, don’t you see really, sort of amazingly produced videos, but also you see really just low budget, low-fi people doing on their phone. And I just think that’s really helpful to think, well, I could do I could try that maybe.

Unknown Speaker 09:25
There’s so much online advice already. And I can just like whenever somebody asks me how to do it, I’m like, look, just to be honest, just go on YouTube, because there’ll be like somebody who’s filmed their hands doing it in like detail and close up and, you’ll get a better idea of how to do just from watching these YouTube tutorials. So it’s already out there and I just, I’m always trying everybody just encourage them to start trying to you and then I’m always happy to support of course.

Unknown Speaker 09:56
There are so many of these tradition bearers who are very willing to share their skills, but they’re also of an age now where they perhaps themselves don’t quite have the access to the means to share these skills, that would do the best job in spreading them, such as getting them onto YouTube. There are a few good online tutorials at the moment, specifically for I’m just talking about wheat weaving, but with many of the other crafts, I think it’s still really hard to readily access the opportunities to learn about these skills.

Unknown Speaker 10:35
I started an Instagram account as well, for fun, which I hadn’t done before, because I was quite shy to use social media. But in the end, it turned out to be so nice to connect to other people and to get this network of other knitters and crafters together.

Unknown Speaker 10:51
Through using YouTube or Instagram, we could not just learn new skills, but also reach out to surrounding communities, asking questions and gaining confidence. Simply by having a go, making mistakes and reaching out for help, we can fashion our own path of learning, which resonates with the reciprocal nature of folk craft learning. However, maybe the algorithms are guiding our learning too.

Unknown Speaker 11:16
It’s really good for your confidence, I think when you think you’re not very good at something, and then you give it a go, and you actually learn. And you learn more and more and more. And it builds up until you think oh, yeah, actually, I do know, a little bit now. Whereas in the beginning, I just had no clue whatsoever. So yeah, YouTube has been invaluable.

Unknown Speaker 11:38
Like, I always felt a bit lonely, where like I was quite good at knitting before, like done already, because my grandmother says, had both taught me how to knit. And so I knew all the basics and was able to make like little hats and socks, but never really dared to knit according to a pattern or to do make a jump or something bigger. And it was just really great to find people who were on the same level, or beyond who could just were so supportive and inspiring as well.

Unknown Speaker 12:10
I’ve been wheat weaving for a really long time, and there were only about two other wheat weavers on Instagram, and now you can find so many and yet, it’s still a struggle to find any tutorial videos on YouTube or whatever. So it’s, it’s really kind of disparate, the way that these crafts kind of, are finding popularity and there’s no real way of, it’s like wheat weaving has this sort of earthy popularity, because it really slots very nicely into the kind of overarching scene, whereas something like clay pipe making, or different types of weaving don’t have that same like direct link to the, to the earth and the land. And so therefore, they’re still being overlooked, which I would say, is a shame. But I think it’s all on the app.

Unknown Speaker 13:04
You got these little like, online chats where you discuss the pattern, is really geeky. You almost became like, you said that, in the evening, and everybody was at their home knitting their thing, it was just exchanging all the mistakes. Just kept me sane.

Unknown Speaker 13:25
But let’s think back to how people generations before us learned. Within folk arts, there’s a long line of what may sometimes be called tradition bearers, those who have practiced all their life and carry on to others a certain way of doing things. But how can we still access the wealth of information these tradition bearers hold?

Unknown Speaker 13:46
Personally, I don’t feel expert enough, or I don’t, I don’t feel I don’t feel the weight of that responsibility, because I don’t feel as if I personally have enough experience and knowledge to be doing those things and, you know, when it comes to like getting things up on YouTube, I think ultimately, I’m only now thinking: Why have I not reached out to these tradition bearers? And why have I not invited them to make a video with me? And why have I not set this up? Why not set up this channel where people can access these free videos? And also, this sounds a bit, might sound a bit ridiculous, but I’m genuinely fearful of stepping on people’s toes. And I want to be really sensitive to the people who have been doing this their whole lives and who, in many ways, you know, they learned orally and they learned over many years, and I don’t want to be disrespectful to many of these crafts people by sort of swooping in and going. Looking like ditzy Wally.

Unknown Speaker 14:53

Unknown Speaker 14:55
Although the internet is doing a great job of spreading this knowledge, there is also no replacement for in person teaching. Weven offer a range of courses at their shop to keep folk traditions alive, and they are aiming to reduce barriers to entry into crafting, hoping to rekindle the kind of communal exchange crafts traditionally provided.

Unknown Speaker 15:16
Yeah, we offer all kinds of workshops, we have done wheat weaving, corn-dolly making, we’ve done Shibori Indigo, natural Indigo dying, drawing onto fabric from life. We’ve done hand dipped candles, I’ve done loads of children’s craft activities, we’ve done paper lanterns, basket weaving is irregular, different types of willow basket weaving, and there’s so many that we’d like to do, but there’s only so much we can manage within our little shop.

Unknown Speaker 15:50
I’d like to do something locally with like old people who can attend the session. And in Margate, we’re quite lucky because we’ve got quite a good artists scene and there’s already crafts and buying evenings, where people will just bring their little projects and do this in a nice ambient, with a glass of wine. But where I would really like to do is to be a bit more diverse and get people who really are not into crocheting and crafts at all, to do something.

Unknown Speaker 16:22
The makers are from all over the country really. But predominantly, I would say they are from Stroud, and we try we do try and keep things local, we try and be as environmentally conscious as possible. So we’re not into like getting people to travel miles and miles and miles for a one day workshop. But really, really important for us is making sure then that those workshops are really accessible, we keep our ticket prices absolutely as low as they can possibly be, again so that young people can be involved. And it’s not, they’re not kind of demographic doubt by by the sorts of people. And I feel bad about science as well. But I do live in the Cotswolds. And there are a lot of people of a certain age with a lot of money to spend on beautiful craft activities. And although everybody is welcome, the idea is to try and get people who don’t have 140 pounds to spend on a on a workshop ticket to come along.

Unknown Speaker 17:21
Ann also has ideas about how our hobbies can be turned outwards to each different areas within our communities.

Unknown Speaker 17:29
Margate is quite an interesting place, despite the gentrification that is happening here rapidly. And we’ve got, I think, I’m not sure about the recent statistics, but we’ve got a very high rate of teenage pregnancies in Margate, so what I was hoping to do with a friend who runs a vintage shop in Maya, is to do workshops for young mothers basically, on how to just crochet a baby blanket before the, to just appreciate the arrival of the new born, and then that was an idea, but also to get retired knitters involved in this. And so yeah, fingers crossed for that.

Unknown Speaker 18:10
The Democratic nature of the Internet has allowed many of us to open new doors into learning, that were previously closed. And this is particularly true for women in general, and true for women working in music, as I myself know. Too often, the tech roles are still hugely weighted towards men, whilst women popups are more emotional or decorative roles, like singer. Teaching yourself can be highly empowering.

Unknown Speaker 18:36
I haven’t taught anyone else because I just don’t think I’m proficient enough, but I think it would be really great. Eventually I’d definitely be open to that, especially being a woman and being older, so not, you know, sort of traditionally who you think would be perhaps doing music production and doing those kinds of things. I don’t know, maybe the world’s moved on, and it’s not that unique. But I do see lots of women online saying or it’s so brilliant to learn in women only spaces and to be taught by women, and I definitely saw women who had those skills. I’m not going to be alone. I’m sure there are many other people, so it would be I would like to connect with people who were doing similar things really and experiencing similar things and see what we could come up with and how we could support each other and collaborate potentially as well, not just in music, but in other art forms as well.

Unknown Speaker 19:36
So as well as the benefits to the community. The act of practising crafts can benefit our mental health.

Unknown Speaker 19:44
I’ve only really actively been aware of the fact that Weven has given me this huge participatory position within the community, as having a little shop and we’re you know, we’re a tiny shop, and hardly anybody knows about us really, but by being there, and by providing the service and by meeting people, every day that you’re in the shop and having all of these lovely conversations and creating these new networks and these new webs, I never really, I never anticipated that, I never saw it coming, and I’m so grateful for what Weven has given me.

Unknown Speaker 20:23
It really calms me to start off with I read, it’s really good to just to be able to do something with your hands, and have a good thought, and I tend to not think too much sometimes and just do things. And so this is really like, okay, no, I’ll sit down with a cup of tea now, and I’d just do a bit of knitting. And then I might start again.

Unknown Speaker 20:45
When I started, I was just like, okay, I don’t know how to do this, I don’t dare how to cut the fabric right, and I’m just like, okay, I’ll just do it, I’ll have a thought and then I’ll do it. And you know, you can unpick it and it will be fine. You can unpick it and you can try again, which was something I always thought, okay, I’ve ruined the fabric now. That’s it, the end of the day. And no, it’s okay to make these mistakes, but you have to be daring. Basically, if even if I go, even if I fail, now, I can fix this, so I found this is a great attitude that I learned to all the crafting. In the other way, it also kind of made me more daring, so like, with like with sewing as well, so I bought myself from my self employment income support screen, I got myself a nice sewing machine. I definitely get more job offers now from that, I suppose.

Unknown Speaker 21:39
As Ann just described, her lockdown hobby turned into work. Being in a capitalist society, the question of how these skills can be used to make money inevitably comes up and quickly. This can feel at odds with the ideas of sharing and exchange. If you’re thinking about being compensated for your time, or recouping with cost of materials, and making things in this way, through an economic lens can be troubling and create conflict. So how can this be managed?

Unknown Speaker 22:09
We’re in a really fortunate position, where we don’t have to focus on generating income, like, don’t take that for granted for a second, we share a beautiful shop space, it’s really, really rundown, but our rent is cheap and affordable. And so I don’t have to be driven by sales and making loads of money, but I feel like through not having that necessity. It almost, through not trying to push the sales, people naturally feel more inclined to browse, and they want to know about things and it becomes far more of a conversation and less kind of looking at price tags.

Unknown Speaker 22:50
I thought of selling them and there have been requests for them, but and I sold a couple but to be honest, like it’s so difficult for small businesses like I couldn’t make it as a living, and it basically, the yarn itself is so expensive and the material, because I obviously insisted on buying very nice yarn from Germany, from happy sheeps that are identically dyed and still smell nice of landscape and get bits of hay in. Bah bah, bah bah, by the time you’ve made an octopus that big, just the material alone is 100 pounds, and the big red one took me about a month to crochet, I’d say so, you have to enjoy making them, I don’t think you’ll get like a, I wouldn’t suggest it as a business approach.

Unknown Speaker 23:38
My plan, I was thinking about this on the way back home from the school run this morning, is to just play, play, play, and set myself some challenges with the ultimate sort of goal of getting a collection together that I’d be happy for other people to hear. I know nothing about releasing music that would be another YouTube rabbit hole to dive down I think and how you go about doing that. But I will, I will try it at some point, I’m sure. I’m not thinking about it hugely because I’m so, it seems a bit previous I suppose because I’m just enjoying the experimenting and playing with different techniques. But I would love to because ultimately, music is there to listen to, isn’t it and I love listening to music. I’m just a bit sort of nervous about letting other people listen to mine. So I have tried to be braver about that, and you know, stick the headphones on people that come around, say look, this is what I’ve been doing, but I do find that nerve wracking, I suppose I suppose it’s that sort of anti performer side of me, even letting people listen to things.

Unknown Speaker 24:43
We are a small shop really, and everything in there is really considered and really special, and so I think the people that it appeals to, they’re the sorts of people that will save up for that one special thing and it will mean loads to them. It’s really encouraging, a change of pace with the way that we buy things and the way that we interact with the kind of the climate of shopping, I suppose. We do, we do have like smaller trinkets and things that are way more affordable, it’s not, I’m not trying to make out like everything in the shop is, that you’d have to, you’d have to have a big ol pot of expendable income to be able to afford it, you know, there’s lots of little bits and bobs, and knick knacks and, and lots of things to rifle through. But ultimately, I think it is just really focusing and encouraging that shift in the way that you think about shopping.

Unknown Speaker 25:43
People saw the octopus and asked me to basically crochet something personal for them. Like one of my favourite things that came out of it was like knitting and crocheting beloved pets that had died, according to photographs. So people sent me their photographs, and I made them in their pet as a cuddly toy, which was good fun. And from that came that people sent me unfinished projects of their loved ones that they couldn’t finish before they died, so I finished little cardigans, and teddy bear I made for someone and I got loads of yarn from that as well, which I use now to create my own patterns for knitting. I’ve made this massive knitted dress, which is almost like a dry rope now because I insisted on using up all the arm that I was given. So they can basically is just like the big hug from all this yarn, and that was chosen originally to create something but never got used.

Unknown Speaker 26:49
Humans seem to have a desire to make things, get better at making things, share that knowledge and build communities around the things they do. Modern technology can be immensely helpful in his pursuits, especially when we are isolated from each other. But modern ideas just capitalism can throw a spanner in the works, putting distance between us and our innate desire to create and share.

Unknown Speaker 27:14
Thanks to everyone who has taken part in this podcast, so that’s Bricks Bristol at St. Anne’s house for commissioning, Rowan Bishop for producing, and to our contributors Rhia Davenport, Hannah Parry, and Anne Rotzek and thank you for listening.

Transcribed by